Media ignore women, for women

Yesterday, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee had a hearing on threats to religious liberty. The Republicans on that committee were trying to make President Obama look bad, because of his recent edict requiring religious groups to provide insurance policies that violate their doctrines. The Democrats on the Committee staged a walkout because some of the panelists who were brought on to discuss questions of religious liberty had male parts.

Guess what happened with the coverage!

Yesterday I noted Politico: “Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Holmes Norton walk out of contraception hearing. ABC News: “Rep. Darrell Issa Bars Minority Witness, a Woman, on Contraception”. CBS: “Dems decry all-male House panel on WH contraception rule.” A reader noted:

Mollie, you missed the absolutely wretched CNN article

You would have thought that none of the clergy were present and that only the grandstanding politicos were there.

Because it’s so rare to have the head of my church body speak on these things, our members were surprised (or at least disappointed) to the see the disparity between what actually happened in the hearing (and many of them watched) versus what was reported in the media. It was almost like a parallel universe. And they haven’t even gotten basic facts right, attributing to Metropolitan Jonah what was said by the Rev. Matthew C. Harrison. (Hint: they both have facial hair but very different facial hair.)

What’s interesting to me is that if you were going to focus on grandstanding Democratic politicians, I found the remarks of Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., in which he went after the panelists and dismissed the hearing as a sham much more interesting. And he staged a walkout, too!

But the idea that the media would just swallow the public relations spin of one party and ignore or downplay the substance of the hearing … is frustrating.

My church body never engages in politics, for doctrinal reasons. But here even when we are compelled to speak out, the words that our elected President spoke aren’t important because he’s male? By falling for partisan spin about gender inequality, reporters have completely marginalized me and the millions of women who were being represented yesterday. It’s infuriating. It is sexism, but not the type that they recognize.

In any case, we already showed how laughable the oft-repeated, obsessed-over stat is, the one regarding 98 percent of Catholic women who, we’re told, use birth control for fun all of the time. We showed how that statistic was invented and, rather, showed that 87 percent of Catholic women who are not open to life in general but who report fighting contraception in particular use contraceptives. Or, as we could say 87 percent of Catholic women who are not pregnant, not post-partum, not pre-partum and are having sex right now and are between the ages of 15-44) are using contraceptives. The White House put it in talking points and the media swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

You may be interested in this statistic from CNN reports that a full 22 percent of Catholics support Catholic teaching on birth control. This is a statistic that has nothing whatsoever to do with the religious liberty concerns being addressed by a wide variety of church officials, but at least it addresses how many Catholics support Catholic teaching.

I’ll note a similar statistic from another poll. Guess what percentage of Catholics go to mass weekly? Take a random guess. Did you guess … 22 percent?

Oh, and polls show that a majority of citizens oppose the new HHS policy. Do you think that story is being accurately set forth? The opposite?

I read a piece in the New York Times that mentioned the debunked 98 percent statistic and I decided to follow the link of supposed substantiation. It went to, and I’m not joking, a Politifact story that rated the fraudulent statistic … yes … “mostly true.

The piece admits that characterizations of the study were deeply flawed, although it only mentions some of the flaws with that characterization, before giving the ruling. The article basically says that, despite evidence showing problems with the study design relative to the claims of the study, Politifact says “who cares? Mostly true. Hiccup!” To see what an actual fact-check looks like, as opposed to writing what you wish were true, you can check out the links in this post from a few days ago. And a reader points out that special credit simply must be given to commenter Bain Wellington, who really nailed the problems with that stat before others.

Do check out Glenn Kessler’s fact check of the statistic over at The Washington Post:

The claim that 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception: a media foul

He simply explains what’s flawed with the statistic without denying that many Catholic women do contracept:

If a statistic sounds too good to be true, be wary. A spokesman for Pelosi said she was saying that 98 percent of Catholic women have used birth control at some point in their lives — because that is how the media characterized it.

But, judging from the examples above, the media has gotten it wrong. The journalistic shorthand has been that “98 percent of American Catholic women have used contraception in their lifetimes.” But that is incorrect, according to the research.

“The shorthand is not what our statistic shows since we only looked at women aged 15-44 who have ever had sex,” Jones said.

The NSFG data on women of child-bearing age certainly may still be relevant to the debate over contraception, because these are the women who today might have a need for access to free birth control. The data also shows that there are few differences between women of different religions in terms of contraceptive use; there was not much difference back in 1973 but the gaps have narrowed even further today. But that still does not excuse the media’s sloppy shorthand for this statistic.

Two Pinocchios — to the media

Sounds fair. Now, it’s also true that journalists haven’t explained how the percentage of parishioners who violate a church teaching becomes the basis for determining whether it’s ok to violate religious liberty. There are arguments in favor of this and against it, and it should not be assumed.

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  • Susie

    Well I do wonder why we expect the media to get this right or admit that the numbers just don’t add up to 98%.

    Remember the “debt” chart from some months back? The one that didn’t bother to include the truth?

  • Mollie

    I have to share three comments I see on President Matthew Harrison’s Facebook as of this writing — just to show what is missed in the coverage:

    1) From President Harrison, in response to someone thanking him for his testimony: “Great to hear from you! It was like stepping into a monkey cage during a dung fight. But I was honored.”

    2) From a woman named Suellen: “Just wanted to say that you did us proud yesterday. As a woman, and a member of the LCMS, I am happy to have you stand up and speak for me.” (It’s worth noting that the entire Facebook wall is full of men and women thanking him for his testimony)

    3) From a man named Keith: “Following the news coverage of yesterday’s congressional hearing that involved Matt Harrison, the president of the LCMS, I am firmly convinced the News media can no longer be trusted as a source of information. Of all the major outlets, only two actually reported more than the Democratic grandstanding. Of those two, one had their information wrong. I am deeply sadden by what I witnessed yesterday. It is becoming all the more important to check sources.”

    It is just interesting to see how the obsession on horse race political reporting (and/or gender issues) plays among readers and participants who aren’t similarly obsessed.

  • Susan


    Thank you for doing such wonderful work covering this story. I’ve been following it from the beginning and also watched both panels on C-Span.

    At this point, what I’m perplexed about is the woman who wanted to testify about her friend who went to Georgetown and was supposedly unable to receive contraceptives to cover a medical condition. When Cumming’s list of colleges that allegedly provided contraceptives, Georgetown was on the list. It certainly makes one wonder if the woman’s story was true and/or which facts are true and which are not.

    Here is a link to blog that followed up on the list:

  • Jeff


    “Stepping into a monkey cage during a dung fight” is a pretty good description of the job you and others at Get Religion do in covering the MSM — except that almost all the monkeys in the cage are the throwing their dung the same way, i.e. not at each other, but out toward the public at large, or at least toward that part of the public who don’t take the MSM’s “first draft” as the final word on history, or even on current events.

  • Observer

    The spokesmen represented on the panel hail from religious groups whose views on gender roles tend towards the patriarchal. What, then, is surprising about women (and men), whose views do not tend that way, objecting ? Or regarding the act of convening such a one-sided panel as itself a form of grandstanding ?

  • JohnMcG

    For whatever it’s worth, Guttmacher is now claiming that the 98% figure did not come from the data they presented in graphs and tables in the report, which would exactly add up to 98% if the 11% who used “no method” were dropped, but on another set of data from the government, for which they now provide a table with just that data they asserted.

    Guttmacher clarification

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I haven’t seen a mainstream media piece raising the issue of laws that bring about too much entanglement between Church and state. Based on that premise the whole insurance mandate imbroglio points to the reality that the whole envisioned insurance mandate system is nothing but a giant political power grab to be used to “reward your friends and punish your enemies.”—For that is what is going on right now, but being reported on in very little of the media coverage.

  • Martha

    That Guttmacher statement was very interesting. Hang on while I make a total mess of population data (hey, could I have a potential career as a media professional?)

    Okay, Guttmacher say they used the figures for American women of reproductive age (15-44) and out of that cohort, “Women who are at risk of unintended pregnancy—that is, who are sexually active and are able to become pregnant but want to avoid pregnancy—comprise about seven in 10 of all women of reproductive age”. So 70% of women in the age range 15-44 are sexually active and don’t want to become pregnant, and out of that 70%, 11% don’t use contraception of any kind.

    So we’re talking 89% of 70% are using contraception in various forms, from most to least effective.

    But wait! We’re not done yet! What percentage of the population is covered by the generational cohort of women aged 15-44, I asked myself?

    According to the U.S. Census of 2010, 36% of the population are in the age range 18-44. Now that’s not an exact fit, but a close enough overlap that we can work with the figure. But that includes both men and women, so what’s the percentage of women? Well, it seems that there are slightly more women than men (50.9% to 49.1%) so if we take it that women are 50% of the 2010 population, half of 36% gives us 18%.

    So for the purposes of the “women of reproductive age (15-44)”, we can take it for rough values that they comprise 18% of the total population.

    So some clever statistician can figure out what *deep breath* 89% of 70% of 18% works out to, as a percentage of total population. Or 89% of 70% of 36%, if they just want to work out the percentage of the female population of the U.S. who are currently using contraceptives.

  • Martha

    Okay, I’m too stupid to work out formulas, so I had to do it the hard way. All figures and percentages rounded off for convenience. Experienced mathematicians who tear out their hair and want to correct this, all help gratefully received.

    Total female population of the U.S.A. (2010): 156,964,212
    Cohort of 18-44 years old (2010): 112,806,642
    70% of that cohort sexually active but not wishing to become pregnant: 78,964,649
    89% using some method of contraception: 70,278,538

    70,278,538 divided by 156,964,212 multiplied by 100 = 45%

    So we can say provisionally that 45% of American women are currently using some form of contraception. Can probably bump it up another couple of percent if we include the 15-18 year olds that the Guttmacher report included from the original survey. “45% of total female population” doesn’t sound as snappy as “98% of Catholics! 99% of all women!”, does it?

  • Heather

    Martha – Thanks for doing the math for us. Good work! A+

  • R9

    Looking at the “total female population” means looking at people who aren’t even relevant to the question.

  • Beate

    Martha, there are some more clarifications and graphs here:

    Where did you find the number of women ages 15-44? I got around 62,000,000 from the Census Bureau.

  • Rev. Rodney Wise

    The whole discussion about the percentage of women who do or do not use contraceptives is a red herring. It is totally unrelated to the issue at hand. The hearing was about churches and people whose rights to free exercise of religion are being trampled. I find it interesting how the test is so different for the establishment clause vs. the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. If a single person objects to a public display of the 10 commandments or a commencement prayer then there is a great outcry and great resources come to bear to right this “terrible” wrong. If the federal govt. forces hundreds of thousands to millions of people of faith to disobey the Word of God and thousands of years of church teaching, all of a sudden the test becomes majority rule.
    My favorite comment by Pastor Harrison is when he said that you cannot “accommodate” our 1st Amendment rights. I’m proud of my ecclesiastical supervisor. Even if he got a little monkey dung thrown on him, I know he is washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ.

  • Ann

    I have read/watch considerable media coverage of the hearing. I did not see any coverage of the panel not include even one individual from a long list of religious organization that support the mandate for contraceptive coverage.

  • revaggie

    It was very much disheartening to read the coverage yesterday. To witness sources that I used to view as biased but somewhat reliable prove themselves to be little more than propaganda rags destroyed the last vestiges of trust I have in our media.

    I do have to mention that you made my day, Mollie, it’s not everyday I am quoted twice.

  • Rev. Kurt Hering

    Thanks for another necessary and spot on article, Mollie.

    One correction as fellow Misoourian in regard to this statement: “My church body never engages in politics, for doctrinal reasons.”

    Never say never. We are church composed of sinners and beggars, it is true.

  • michael henry

    The media not only allowed the liberals to re-frame the argument to “contraceptives”, but they waited for them to do so before really reporting much at all. And once it was re-framed, they ran with every meme cast to the wind.
    The fact of the religious liberty angle, and the total disrespect to witnesses on reinforces anyone’s view that media cannot be trusted to be fair or balanced, much less right. In essence, if mainstream media says today is Saturday, check the calendar.

  • Tragic Christian

    I must say, the spin coming out is that the hearing was about “women’s health,” not about encroachments to religious freedom — I’ve had several vigorous Facebook arguments about it in the past few days, not to mention the spin in the press and from the Dems (check out the spin from Sen. Barbara Boxer’s office

    Nothing about religious freedom, all about “women’s health” (a topic which apparently means pregnancy must be “cured.”)

  • Martha

    R9, obviously I disagree. Saying “9 out of 10 cats prefer” is a different thing to saying “99% of cats prefer”, even if they sound the same.

    If I have a sample group of 4 cats, and 3 of them prefer Old Fisherman Pete’s Chunky Cod Chunks, then that sounds great, doesn’t it? 75% of cats like Old Fisherman Pete’s Catfood, so I should buy that brand for Tibbles next time I go shopping!

    Ah, but wait: if I select my sample group of 4 cats to be “those cats that didn’t run away hissing and clawing when presented with a bowl of Old Fisherman Pete catfood”, then it’s a horse of a different colour. If that is 3 cats out of 4 cats from a group of 10 cats, then that’s really 3 cats out of 10 or 30% – and if the next most popular brand is Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons Food, where 6 cats out of 10 yummed it down, then I might do better for the sake of Tibbles to buy a tin of Mother Hitton rather than Old Fisherman Pete.

    Beate, you are indeed correct, and I am in error. My figure for the 18-44 cohort included males and females, rather than females alone. So your figure of 62,000,000 is correct. Using that figure, let’s see how it works out:

    Total female U.S. population in 2010: 156,962,212
    18-44 cohort (females only): 62,000,000
    70% sexually active, don’t want to become pregnant: 43,400,000
    89% of sexually active, don’t want to become pregnant, using contraception: 38,626,000

    38,626,000 divided by 156,962,212 multiplied by 100=25%

    Sorry, R9, but if only 25% of all American women are using contraception, shoving the mandate for universal contraceptive/sterilisation provision onto church-run and church-affiliated institutions looks more like ideology and less like women’s right to health care.

    And I would just emphasise here why I think it makes a difference: the media are flinging around figures that “99% of women use contraception” – the meaning to be taken that 99% of ALL women are doing so, where the REAL meaning is “99% of a sub-set of the population are doing so” (and even that isn’t right, because as the survey and the Guttmacher study admit, there is a rump of 11% of women who are not using contraception but still having sex); the actual percentage of all women currently alive in America (and as a 48 year old myself, who is still considered to be part of the Irish labour force for the next twenty years or so, I wave off the imputation that I or my age-mates don’t count in counting women) using contraception is just one quarter or 25% (my admittedly shaky figures above).

  • Martha

    Where I got the figures: U.S. Census 2010, Census Briefs and Reports, Age and Sex Composition, Table 1. Population by Sex and Selected Age Groups: 2000 and 2010

    Total Population
    Female 156,964,212 (2010 figure)
    Selected Age Groups
    18 to 44 years 112,806,642 (2010 figure)

    As Beate pointed out, my elementary mistake was taking the cohort figure for both males and females, instead of looking up the figure for females only in that age grouping.

  • Dave G.

    Now, it’s also true that journalists haven’t explained how the percentage of parishioners who violate a church teaching becomes the basis for determining whether it’s ok to violate religious liberty

    And that continues to be my question. I can’t conclude anything other than the fact that this constant coverage of the 98%, 89%, 90%, 66%, 51% and any other ‘study’ that cites some group over 50%, that the basic message is: Since the majority doesn’t care anyway, it’s not important what those other 2% think. This is, of course, opposite of what we’ve heard for how many decades. Either rights are majority based, or they aren’t. And the very strange part of this is that, leading up to reporting of the court’s Prop 8 decision in California, I heard not a few pundits reminds us that the rights of individuals are never – EVER – based on what the majority thinks. Since these two things happened almost simultaneously, I’ve enjoyed hearing how the majority relates to rights from both perspectives at the same time, and from the same sources!

  • MJBubba

    I am greatly appreciative of Mollie and friends parsing the mass media failure regarding the HHS mandate on expanded insurance coverage. This discussion is focused on the fact that the “lamestream” media have entirely focused on the contraceptive aspect, to the neglect of the religious liberty aspect.
    What I also want is some media coverage of the fiscal aspect. In addition to thinking this is a violation of First Amendment principles, I also think the mandate is an offense against Tenth Amendment principles, and is not cost-effective, wasteful, and just generally a bad idea. I have only seen that position in editorials at the Wall Street Journal and in conservative niche media. But that is a political aspect, so one might think that the mass media would show some interest. The lack of coverage only serves the side of the progressives. The rest of us have to go elsewhere to find out what is going on.

  • Harris

    On sloppy use of 98%: Sarah Kliff at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog at least did the actual journalistic work of calling and asking.

  • John M.


    From March for Life weekend through the Komen flap to this, I’m more and more of the conclusion that the media doesn’t “get” religion or pro-life issues because it doesn’t want to. Two swallows don’t make spring, and five GetReligionistas don’t make for an honest media. I fear that you are all tilting at windmills.


  • Mark Huntemann

    The above proves the total corruption of the main line media.
    This is what is known. What scares me is what we do not know…. IXOYC

  • Matt

    I’m not sure if you took stats in college but 50% is not a majority

  • leopold

    “Because it’s so rare to have the head of my church body speak on these things…”

    I know what you mean, but, still, he is not the head of your church, Jesus is…